Two ways of looking at gun violence

May 25, 2022 • 11:00 am

After every mass shooting—and mass shootings constitute only 1.2% of all American deaths due to gun violence—we experience a brief period of self-awareness and self-assessment, and then discourse gets back to normal. Everyone jaws for a week about the solutions (some even offer them),but in the end the status quo is back with us. This is exemplified in a story from The Onion, appearing after the Las Vegas massacre (click on screenshot to read); it’s one of the best pieces the sarcastic site ever produced.

There are generally two kinds of reactions by well-meaning people after a mass shooting: fixing American attitudes towards guns, and fixing American attitudes towards other people. Today’s post gives examples of both solutions.

First, though, let’s recognize, as I noted above, that mass shootings are but a small fraction of all gun-related deaths. What we most need to deal with are not the attention-grabbing mass shootings, but the much larger number of homicides, suicides, and accidental gun deaths.  The Pew Research Center reports that in 2020, 45,222 died in gun-related incidents in the U.S.  Depending on your definition of “mass shooting”, those killed in mass-shooting incidents range from 38 to 513: 0.08% to 1.1% of all deaths. (I’m not trying to minimize the psychological effect and grief caused by mass shootings, of course, but trying to emphasize that if you want to save lives, these events are a smaller part of the problem than most people think.)

This figure from Nicholas Kristof’s new and illustrated op-ed in the NYT, “How to reduce shootings,” gives an overview of the problem:

This shows several things, the most striking being that the NRA and other gun owners’ justification for having guns (protecting yourself from bad guys) is unjustified: only 589 killed others in justified self-defense compared to 11,760 homicides (I assume the latter don’t include “mass shootings” but are one-off events, including accidents.)

Further, death by suicide is by far the largest form of gun-related mortality. I will assume that if guns weren’t easily available, this number would drop. (Shooting is the easiest, most reliable, and one of the least messy ways of doing yourself in. That’s why it’s the go-to way of killing yourself.)

It’s hard not to conclude that the lax gun laws of America are largely responsible for the death rate. You can say that we have more “bad guys,” and it’s the people who kill, not the guns (viz., the NRA), but then how does that explain our huge number of suicides? Only easy access to guns (or a special incidence of mental illness in America) explains that.

Here are some figures included in Kristof’s piece (illustrations are by Bill Marsh:

Further, there’s a positive correlation among states between the laxity of gun laws and per capita gun deaths:

This is a correlation, of course, not necessarily a causation, but the correlation is strong, and one would have to posit that sociological factors in states like Kansas and Idaho (more bad people per capita, for example), are the factor producing this. As Kristof notes,

Some of you will protest that the immediate aftermath of a shooting is too soon to talk about guns, or that it is disrespectful to the dead to use such a tragedy to score political points. Yet more Americans have died from gun violence, including suicides, since 1970 (about 1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history going back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.3 million). And it’s not just gang-members: In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.

He adds that another factor supportsthe ubiquity of guns as causal here:

For skeptics who think that gun laws don’t make a difference, consider what happened in two states, Missouri and Connecticut. In 1995, Connecticut tightened licensing laws, while in 2007 Missouri eased gun laws.

The upshot? After tightening gun laws, firearm homicide rates dropped 40 percent in Connecticut. And after Missouri eased gun laws, gun homicide rates rose 25 percent.

Granted, this is an anecdote, but it’s surely worth following up. (To do that, of course, we need more states loosening as well as tightening gun laws.)

Presumably because of the futility of trying to enact gun-control legislation in the U.S. (even though most Americans favor some kind of gun control), Kristof instead floats a “public health” approach: controlling not the number of guns, but who gets to buy a gun. That, of course, would be helpful, but a lot of deaths come from shootings by sane people in bad situations or accidental shootings by children and the like. And plenty of suicides have no formal record of mental illness that would bar them from owning a gun—even if such laws were widespread.

Here are Kristof’s solutions.

a.) Regulate guns like we regulate cars.

Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them — and limit access to them — so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven to less than one-seventh of what it was in 1946.

Kristof then gives a list of the kind of regulations that reduced automobile deaths (seat belts, child safety seats, car safety ratings, etc.). And yes, they worked, but we own cars because we need them. Except for the army and police, Americans don’t need guns—except perhaps in the case of farmers or those who insist on target practice. (Even then, guns can be kept in lockers at the shooting sites.)

My solution, were I King of the U.S. (god help you if that were to occur!) would be to start by adhering to the UK model of gun control, where pistols and automatic weapons are banned, and both guns and ammunition must be licensed by the police before you can have them. (I’d go even farther, but we won’t get into that). How many people really need a gun as opposed to those who really need a car?

More suggestions from Kristof:

b.) The liberal approach is ineffective. Use a public health approach instead.  By this Kristof euphemistically says “gun safety” rather than “gun control” since the latter sounds more draconian. Here are his suggestions:

These are useful changes, of course, but won’t do much about suicides, and I wonder how much they’ll reduce homicides as opposed to implementing draconian laws against gun ownership. In Kristof’s favor, however, is the palpable fact that most Americans do favor tightening gun restrictions:

Note that although gun owners tend to be a bit laxer on these bans and stipulations, more than 50% still favor them. And yes, those bans have been enacted in some states. But remember that the 18-year-old who committed yesterday’s Texas school slaughter bought his gun(s) legally.

c.) Better training about using guns. Training about how to store guns and ammo will surely reduce gun deaths, particularly those caused when kids get hold of guns. But somehow this “better education” plan sounds ineffectual. For one thing, it does nothing to prevent suicides. And the general problem with training, as Kristof points out, is that a very high percentage of safety trainers both encourage gun ownership and gun carrying, as well as encouraging people to join “gun rights groups.”

There’s no doubt that implementing most of Kristof’s suggestions will reduce deaths, and even reducing one death is a good. But even as a package they seem to me a suboptimal way to solve the problem.The best way is, as I’ve suggested, going to a draconian gun-ownership system like the UK’s. You’ll tell me that’s impossible, and you’re probably right. (One can dream, however.) But solutions that have been offered only nibble away at the problem, and will still leave us near the top of all countries in gun-related deaths. Once again, Kristof says that if we can make cars safe, we can make guns safer;

But automobiles are a reminder that we can chip away at a large problem through a public health approach: Just as auto safety improvements have left us far better off, it seems plausible to some gun policy experts that a sensible, politically feasible set of public health steps could over time reduce firearm deaths in America by one-third — or more than 10,000 lives saved each year.

He seems to forget that we have no automobile equivalent of the NRA. There is no anti-car-safety lobby.


Bari Weiss’s solution, on the other hand, while also involving stricter gun laws and restrictions on gun proliferation, involves fixing a broken and divided America (click to read, but subscribe if you do that often):

Her plaint—and she’s right—is that we’ve “normalized” violence. The fact that each mass shooting evokes but a temporary outcry (while the much larger number of gun deaths continues unremarked) is an argument against Kristof’s solutions, since what’s the impetus to do anything if we accept shootings as a regular part of life? She advocates a Kumbaya solution: reducing divisiveness reduces deaths. Given that most deaths are single-person homicides or suicides, I’m not sure how that will work, and at any rate seems just as hard (if not harder) than tightening gun laws.

Weiss (my emphasis):

You don’t need another writer telling you what you already know: that mentally ill people getting their hands on guns to commit mass murder this easily is deranged and wrong. Accepting this as normal has nothing to do with respecting the Second Amendment. You don’t need another writer pointing out that this doesn’t really happen in other places and maybe the fact that America has more guns than any other nation on Earth has something to do with it. There’s nothing well-regulated about Salvador Ramos, though it appears he bought those assault rifles legally on his 18th birthday. There’s simply no world in which our founders would look at inner-city gun violence and these sick teenagers in suburban schools and say this was their intention.

Gun rights activists will argue that other countries have guns and that murderers don’t need guns to kill and that some of the cities and states with the strictest gun laws in the country have the highest rates of violent crime and that people kill people guns don’t kill people and that anyway good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns. (Uvalde police officers and a school resource officer reportedly fired at the shooter. They couldn’t stop him.)

Here’s where I think they are right, if inadvertently: The social rot that’s come over America, the nihilism and hatred of each other, is part of the cause here. The dissolution of our social ties—and with them the accountability and responsibility that an actual community demands—has allowed insanity to fester unnoticed. Lockdowns accelerated the isolation, the purposelessness, the lack of meaning that was already overcoming us.

If we insist on viewing this shooting as part of some isolated issue or species of violence, then we miss the point. The point is the country is being consumed by what Philip Roth famously called “the indigenous American berserk.” It stretches back many decades, or longer, and for ages, it was possible to ignore or compartmentalize. Now the brokenness is everywhere we look and it is impossible to unsee it.

I’m not sure what “the indigenous American berserk” is, and the lockdown will eventually abate. But Weiss offers no other solution to the “dissolution of our social ties” problem, and I can’t think of one.

The one step to reduce these deaths that is at least feasible (but nearly impossible) is to ban the goddam guns. And yes, I know that won’t happen, so you don’t need to tell me. But at least that can be implemented with a few strokes of the pen. Fixing “indigenous American berserk,” well, how do you do that?

Or, as Matthew suggested to me this morning, I could leave America. But that doesn’t solve the problem except for me, and I’m in no great danger anyway.


Here’s Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, declaring that he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

151 thoughts on “Two ways of looking at gun violence

  1. > Further, death by suicide is by far the largest form of gun-related mortality.

    I, for one, welcome when the US destigmatizes and decriminalizes suicide; I am glad that some European countries have not only legalized it, but allow it to be part of their national healthcare systems. I’ve read about the Swiss now using nitrogen chambers for suicide. Benelux is now permitting doctor-assisted suicide for any reason, including psychological ones.

    If suicide were destigmatized, people could talk openly about it without a sense of shame, or without feeling like it is always the wrong option. This is one more pro-choice battle we have ahead of us.

    1. I agree with you, but legal suicide demands psychiatric evaluation, as in the Netherlands. And there’s a reason why people do this and try to discourage it, because many people who survive attempts say they wouldn’t do it now.

    2. I’m in favour of allowing people to end their lives when medical conditions make their quality of life so bad it’s a relief not to carry on, but I wouldn’t go so far as to make it generally available no questions asked in their healthcare system and certainly not for psychological conditions like depression.

      As Jerry says, many people who attempt suicide and fail, come to be glad that they failed. Furthermore, suicide causes a lot of distress amongst the close friends and family of the victim and sometimes financial distress of the dependants.

    3. Certainly true that where guns are not easily available they aren’t used as often, but I have to take issue with the idea that it is “one of the least messy” methods. That is only true for very low velocity rounds. Let me give a “trigger warning” before you read on! A powerful handgun (>9mm), rifle or shotgun round through the roof of the mouth will explode the skull, leaving the self-murderer looking anencephalic. Brains, bones and blood will coat the walls and ceiling. It isn’t a pretty sight to discover, especially for a family member, never mind the medical and legal responders who have to look at it all. The knowledge of what you will leave behind is enough to make those who have seen it choose another method when their turn comes, as it sometimes does, unfortunately.

  2. Regardless of the merits of these various proposals to ameliorate gun violence (except suicides), nothing will be implemented until fewer Republicans are elected and the Supreme Court changes to a less right-wing majority. Until this happens, there is nothing to suggest that mass killings by firearms will not continue apace. The wait will be long. But we always have thoughts and prayers.

    1. The difficulty is not so much passing laws that will pass Constitutional muster, difficult as that will be. It will be in disarming by force those millions who will become thereby defined as criminals, …you know, the “cold dead hand” threat. You will have to really really want to do that.

      Waving a Supreme Court decision in their face that says you have to be in the National Guard to own a firearm—“So there!”—will, if they think you really mean it, just get you shot.

      1. These are the just the same weak arguments offered every time gun control is discussed – ‘oh it’s difficult to change so don’t bother’, ‘changes might even make gun nuts shoot people, so best think twice’. They’re counterproductive, and do absolutely nothing to help. Surely, those murdered kids and their distraught parents deserve better than that. Yes, overcoming the inertia of the gun fans and their lobby will be hugely challenging, some might even become violent. But neither are reason enough to shy away from doing what is right and civilised.

        The second amendment is a grotesque anachronism. These atrocities are still happening because nothing substantive has been done to address it despite decades of similar tragedies. Other countries find the senselessness and horror of these incidents unbearable and intolerable, and they tend to respond decisively (see UK and Australia after mass shootings in 1996). The fact that the US hasn’t done a damn thing in all that time is obscene.

        Go back to the fifties and tell people they can’t smoke indoors, tell smokers that their habit will probably kill them if they don’t stop. Would they agree, and willingly oblige? Same with seatbelts, drink driving etc. I fully concede that, for many, these issues are less emotive than gun control, but change was gradual with them, and it would have to be gradual with guns too. No one with any sense is suggesting all guns are banned immediately, it would likely take decades, but that is no reason to give up before even trying.

        1. So, other than a Constitutional Amendment to repeal or re-word the Second Amendment, which will not happen, what is your proposal to disarm people who do not want to be disarmed…when they have the Constitution on their side, no less? All I’m hearing from you is that attitudes will change like they did for indoor smoking and drunk driving and people will become willing to obey tougher laws without a fight. If that was going to happen with guns, you would have seen it by now. The state should not pass laws that has neither the will nor the means to enforce. Think prohibition of alcohol. Great idea, actually was, for health.

          I know you are just mocking, but it’s hard to mock an argument as weak when it has been 100% successful over nine decades in stymieing any change in the way your country approaches gun control. All the gun-control advocates, however well-intentioned, have been able to do since the 1930s is to wring your hands. The police will not go house to house searching and seizing guns made illegal just because they are popular with mass shooters or common criminals. The gun culture has been telling you this since the 1960s. Not my culture but I can’t wish it away either.

          Don’t confuse an “ought” with a “can”.

          1. All constitutional rights have exceptions and limits. They just must be narrow and tailored to a specific, important purpose. I think what many liberals object to is the grossly unbalanced application of this principle to different rights, which seems inordinately and unreasonably tilted in favor of the 2A.

            The 4th amendment gives you the right to not be subjected to unreasonable search and seizure. Yet cops have strip searched people after stopping them for a broken tail light. With civil forfeiture laws, they can stop you for a suspected crime, impound cash you’re carrying, release you without ever charging you with anything, and keep your money. Yet that is not considered a violation of the 4th amendment! These count as narrowly tailored exceptions necessary to meet some legitimate government purpose. The 6th amendment gives you a right to a speedy trial in the district where the crime is committed. Yet there are exceptions made to this every freakin’ day. The government sometimes takes months or even years to bring cases to trial. and they hand out exceptions to the district right like candy. Now contrast that with how conservative courts rule on the 2A, where practically any attempt at finding exceptions to the right is rejected as unconstitutional. That’s not equal application of the principle. Equal application would be allowing 2A exceptions to be as broad and as common as 4A and 6A exceptions, and allowing government to make those exceptions using the same review standard given to 4A and 6A exceptions, not some super higher scrutiny or review.

            Now personally I’d prefer some happy medium. Greater constitutional latitude given to some 2A exceptions; less latitude given to 4A exceptions, and let ‘equal application’ look like something in between these two extremes. But the point remains that, by looking at how the law rules on exceptions to other rights, it is very easy to see how the right-wing’s insistence that the 2A must permit assault weapons, any number of guns, etc. etc. etc. is just bullflop. A constitutional right to bear arms can easily accommodate many more exceptions to it than we give it, and we know this, because our constitutional understanding of other bill of rights rights does accommodate many more exceptions to them.

          2. Constitutionally, it’s only bullflop when 5 justices say it is. Your deconstructions of the 2A are just your thoughts and prayers until then.

          3. My point is that the 2A defenders have no legal or rational leg to stand on when claiming there can be no exceptions. And your response to me is neither a legal nor a rational defense of that notion either. It’s just pointing out that in terms of power, I personally have no ability to make SCOTUS rule rationally on the matter. That’s true, but no real counter to my points.

          4. I believe, and I expect you’d generally agree, that the examples you gave are absurd overreaches of government power that shouldn’t be happening. The legal excuses behind asset “forfeiture” (i.e. seizure) are insane. “We’re not prosecuting you, we’re only prosecuting your money. And money doesn’t have any rights!” … leading to court cases like “United States v. $10,000 US currency” or “United States v. 1990 Mercedes Benz”. The inanimate objects are literally named as the defendants in the suit! “UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. ONE 1980 CADILLAC, Defendant,” I don’t believe anyone can honestly see this and feel it’s not bullshit.

            And I wouldn’t want to say that “because the government is abusing its power and violating our rights in these cases, it should be able to bend the rules in other cases too”. It should just stop all the rights violations.

            Therefore I’d also agree that “because the Supreme Court said so” isn’t a compelling moral argument. Not for asset “forfeiture” and not for gun rights either. It may be a knock-down legal argument… but therein lies the answer to Leslie’s question, I think. The path for gun control advocates is changing the Court to one that will reinterpret the 2nd Amendment.

            (Personally, I tend to agree with the current legal interpretation as a matter of rights. I don’t think the results are that great for society though, at least given the type of people that today inhabit it…)

          5. The path for gun control advocates is changing the Court to one that will reinterpret the 2nd Amendment.

            When liberals start talking 2A reinterpretation, that often means “read it as a collective right for a militia to bear arms” which would be a sea change in current law. What I’m arguing for here something much less radical. Something I frankly think of as just plain common sense: allowing government to make exceptions to the current ‘individual rights’ interpretation 2A the same way we allow government to make exceptions to other constitutional rights. Consider compelling government interest, strict scrutiny, the whole bit…but recognize that this doesn’t mean “zero exceptions ever.”

            What that would look like in practice is probably a set of “standing” exceptions to the 2A that always apply everywhere (analogous to ‘freedom of religion doesn’t make dope smoking legal’), plus a set of commonly understood exceptions which can be applied upon justification to a court (analogous to a prosecutor asking for a change of venue).

            I find the “there can be no restrictions because it’s a constitutional right” type of defense just blatantly and historically wrong reasoning, given that we make lots of legal restrictions on other constitutional rights.

          6. I very much will confuse an ought with a can. That’s what this situation needs, and it’s absolutely what I’m advocating for. It’s a cowardly cop out to say that we can never change the craziness around guns. We ought to change it and we can if we try hard enough. The alternative is just to plod on as normal, and that is not good enough. The poor people who have suffered so terribly here deserve better, as do the future victims, who have yet to live through their personal nightmare. With enough will, humour and humanity things can, and will change.

      2. I don’t think that is as big a problem as you might think.

        You obviously have a transition period that is characterised by progressively more stringent laws. For example, you ban the carrying of firearms in public spaces. Then you make it so that you have to keep your guns securely, using approved gun safes and ammunition safes. You make it so that gun ownership is so onerous that most people find it not to be worthwhile and get rid of their guns.

        It’s a gradual thing and it will take years which is why you need to start now. Also 2A is a problem and it needs to be repealed. But it wouldn’t be a problem if all the people who are in favour of stricter gun controls voted in elections for the party in favour of stricter gun controls. Unfortunately, US elections aren’t decided by this single issue.

  3. “Further, death by suicide is by far the largest form of gun-related mortality.”

    Homicides, in particular mass/school shootings (it is revulsive these have a vernacular term), might be a version of suicide.

    A number of these events (I am thinking off the cuff here) have one killer that goes into action, later to be “neutralized” by police, or, killed. The guy in Florida at Marjory Stoneman / Parkham lived, but was that a mistake in his view?

    Complex, but that’s my thought : mass killers go in expecting to be killed, but they want to take others with them. That would mean the data up above would have overlap, a Venn circle, perhaps.

    1. Those who use the Second Amendment to justify ownership of automatic weapons either have not read the Second Amendment or do not understand what they have read. Thanks to Alito’s brilliant opinon in Dobbs, a ban of automatic weapons would be Constitutionally sound!!! After all, the Constitution DOES NOT MENTION AR-15s or any other automatic weapon! However, possession of muskets would be permitted by all.

      1. Okay, but legally obtained automatic weapons are extremely rare in civilian hands, difficult to obtain, are are almost never used in crimes. Even illegally obtained/created automatic weapons – which I doubt you could stop by making “double illegal” – are very rarely used in crime.

        As for AR-15s, rifles of any kind are used in only about 2% of gun murders. Moreover, AR-15s aren’t automatic weapons. I guess you’re talking about semi-automatic weapons? Auto-loading weapons? Those are rather different. Given that the overwhelming majority of modern civilian firearms are semi-automatic, banning them would not be Constitutionally sound, violating the “in common use” standard.

      2. If you read the Second Amendment, you’ll notice that it does not give you the right to bear arms. It merely forbids the government from removing your right to bear arms. The fact that AR-15s are not mentioned is not relevant. They are arms and the 2A prevents the government from making laws to stop you from owning one.

        It also theoretically stops the government from making laws to prevent you from owning machine guns* and RPGs and howitzers and yet these laws exist. So it’s clearly not an insurmountable problem, but I think you’ll have a lot of trouble getting a US supreme court to declare a ban on semi-automatic rifles (the AR-15 is one) while the 2A and the Republican Party still exists.

        *I am aware that there are ways of legally owning certain machine guns in the USA but the hoops are significant.

  4. The Onions webpage is worth checking out this AM. One of my thoughts is that the whole 2A thing needs to stop being partisan. Which doesn’t do anything about the number of guns now- but if it weren’t a tribal affiliation badge fewer people might start buying guns. Other than that, I’ve got nothing. Until pepe are ready to sacrifice their guns & turn them in voluntarily – we’re in a bad place.

  5. I believe Weiss is wrong simply in the fact that the US’ very high gun murder rate compared to other countries is much older than the ‘social rot’ she’s talking about. Qanon (as an example of the rot she’s concerned about) goes back to 2017; the abnormally high US murder rate goes back to the 1960s or even earlier. So the latter can’t be caused by the former, and fixing the rot or Trumpism or disinformation or any of the other current liberal targets won’t fix the murder rate.

    Re: Kristof’s “ban on under 21.” Why not under 25 or under 30? Given that violent crimes are overwhelmingly conducted by males age 16-25, bumping the year up even further might be a good solution. While we’re at it, we could look into doing it for police officers too; Zippia statistics say that only 18% of officers are under age 30. We should study whether police shootings correlate with younger age officers, and if they do, maybe one way to reduce them is to pair younger and older officers together and have only the older officer hip-carry a firearm. The younger ones can store theirs in the trunk in case of emergency.

    1. Yes, why not 25? When I went to Florida with my family to see our relatives there, my brother and I tried to hire a car. It turned out he wasn’t allowed to drive it because he was under 25. If you can do that for hiring a car, you can do it for gun ownership.

  6. I had two friends who were enthusiastic about guns, one of them a charter member of the 2nd Amendment Society, and met with Charlton Heston when he came to town. They are also the only two of my friends who’ve committed suicide.

  7. First off, I share the same mind as our host regarding what I would do about guns if I were king. That said, while I think that treating gun violence as a public health issue and modeling the solution on how we treat automobile ownership and licensing are good approaches and should be tried, I don’t think they will ultimately hold up to legal challenges from the NRA, because operating an automobile is a privilege and gun ownership is a right under the Constitution. As I alluded to in my reference to the Second Amendment in a comment on today’s Hili Dialogue, as things stand now, after Justice Scalia red-lined the Militia Clause out of this Amendment in the SCOTUS majority opinion on DC v. Heller, until and unless we can return to the SCOTUS opinion on the 2nd Amendment that was prior to Heller, that is, recognizing that this Amendment is about gun control, our national gun fetish will continue to grow along with the concomitant violence.

  8. Only 30% of Americans own a gun. The ridiculous value of 120 guns per 100 people comes from those who own guns deciding they need a small arsenal, not just one or two.

    Once again, this is a minority of Americans imposing their will on the majority by means of a bastardized interpretation of the Constitution. We really should be able to at least license guns and gun users the same way we license cars and drivers. It would not stop gun deaths anymore than car licensing stops car accident deaths, but it would certainly help lower the numbers.

    1. And to continue with the car comparison, we should also make gun owners buy liability insurance, just as car owners are forced to. The more guns, the higher the insurance premium. If there is an “accident” the insurance covers the cost, and their insurance either goes up, or is taken away, along with their right to own a gun.

    2. Well, there are different guns for different purposes. If you want to hunt deer you generally want (or need, depending on the law) a rifle. If you want to hunt waterfowl you generally need a shotgun. For personal defense, you generally need a pistol. (Nothing else is practical to carry around.) And you’d generally want a different kind of pistol for home defense compared to what you’d have outside the home, but it also depends on whether “outside” is countryside or urban. And if you do competitive shooting, you may want yet another type of pistol and yet another type of rifle, or several types depending on the competitions you enjoy…

      Most people I know who are into gun culture, especially hunting and competition, usually have a bunch of firearms mostly because they suit different purposes. Some of course just love to try all the latest and newest ones.

      But I suspect it doesn’t make much difference whether they have one gun or four. If they’re disposed to commit gun crime they will even if they only have one gun. If they’re not so disposed, they won’t even if they have ten. Anyway, most gun crime is committed with stolen guns that are illegally possessed. Safe storage rules to prevent gun thefts may help more than gun licenses.

      1. Well, since self defence isn’t really a valid reason for owning a gun – the number of suicides show that the person you are most likely to kill with a gun is yourself and the second most like person is somebody by accident – you can ban handguns straight off. That alone will have a big effect on the statistics.

  9. “. . .the NRA and other gun owners’ justification for having guns (protecting yourself from bad guys) is unjustified: only 589 killed others in justified self-defense compared to 11,760 homicides. . . .”

    With all due respect, that’s the wrong metric to use. Defensive gun uses (DGUs) occur between 500,000 and 3 million times per year in the United States. In the vast majority of cases, a crime is stopped and a potential victim is protected without a shot being fired.

    Another statistic worth noting is that the average number of victims in a mass shooting when the perpetrator is stopped by law enforcement is 14. The average number when the shooter is stopped by a legally armed citizen is 2.5.

    Armed citizens save lives. We should allow all teachers who choose to do so to be armed to protect their students.

    One final note: If you break down the homicides even further, you’ll find that the vast majority of those happen in inner cities and are directly related to gang and drug violence.

    1. One final note: If you break down the homicides even further, you’ll find that the vast majority of those happen in inner cities and are directly related to gang and drug violence.

      “Inner city” folk are just as deserving of protection from murder as you, and if they are the overwhelming victims of gun murder, then implementing gun regulation to stop it is still something on the table we should consider. The subtext of “it’s only black people shooting each other in the city – not a reason to regulate my white self’s ownership of guns” is pretty strong in your message. We’re all Americans. We need a solution that insures domestic tranquility for all Americans. Pointing out that the victims and perpetrators of gun violence don’t look like you and don’t live near you, does not make the conclusion “so it’s not my problem, and thus no regulation is justified” a good solution for America.


      1. I didn’t take the racist message from Patrick’s remarks at all that you were so quick to hear. If it’s true that most gun homicides occur among the underclass, never mind what race it is, any measures to reduce that toll are predicated on two premises:

        1) It’s worth doing, and…
        2) The non-violent members of the underclass would cooperate by, say, ratting out their members who pack and identifying for police those who shoot up daycare centres while settling issues of “respect”. This would mean repudiating the no-snitch ethos that gangs cultivate and enforce in order to thrive. How else are you going to take guns away from people who don’t wear them on their hips?

        There is no consensus about premise 1). Premise 2) is risible.
        When the gun criminals are indeed members of an oppressed racialized minority, the uphill struggle steepens. Presumably you have to punish people caught in possession of handguns after you pass tough laws; they sure aren’t going to turn them in voluntarily. But this will result in politically toxic “over-incarceration” of young men of that racial group, undoing two decades of liberal efforts to reduce their preponderance in prison. If you want to keep young racialized men out of prison you will have to let them keep their guns. Or shoot them when they use them.

        Sure, people in slums deserve protection from gang-bangers. By all means disarm their predators and tormentors. Just don’t expect them to help. Do expect them to complain that too many of their community are being locked up.

        1. any measures to reduce that toll are predicated on two premises:

          1) It’s worth doing, and…
          2) The non-violent members of the underclass would cooperate by, say, ratting out their members who pack and identifying for police

          Well it’s pretty much a tautology that democracies only solve problems their citizens think are worth solving. I take the fact that conservatives seem to think that preventing murder in the inner cities is ‘not worth doing’ as a moral and social condemnation of them. But you’re right in the practical sense that until they do think it’s worth doing, it will be a hard slog to convince a sizeable majority of legislators that it’s worth spending social capital and government funds on.

          As for your #2, why should we demand that of these victims? We don’t demand it of prosperous white suburbanites. My city does not state that my neighborhood will only be well-policed if I first agree to call the police on my neighbors. And we spend resources to fight organized crime even if the businesses being blackmailed by them don’t speak up. So why should we predicate the use of social resources to help “inner city” folk (read: black) on them making some weird narc promise that nobody else, no other neighborhood, and no other businesses are required to make? This seems to be more of that double standard implied by Patrick: that “inner city” (again, read black) folk are somehow not deserving of the same treatment or protection of rights that us non-inner city (read: white) folks demand as a matter of course. We feel we are owed peaceful and well policed neighborhoods just by right. But those inner city folk, according to you, well those people have to do some things to earn it. That’s not a good attitude. No Leslie, I do not agree that good policing, safe neighborhoods, or the expenditure of social resources should be predicated on inner city victims promising anything. They are citizens. They live here. They are owed it just as much as I am, or you are, without them needing to even lift a little finger extra to deserve it.

          1. You don’t need to lecture me about my attitude, Eric. I don’t care what you think of me and you don’t need to wear your anti-racism cant on your sleeve. We’re talking about the real-life challenges involved in disarming dangerous people who commit gun crimes, not who’s entitled to what, according to race. To get a gun out of the hands of someone who shouldn’t have one—the point, right? because these shootings vastly outnumber the mass shootings in better neighbourhoods— you first have to convict him of possessing a gun illegally. And the community needs to help find him. It’s not a promise I’m trying to extract. It’s an attitude that could help them. They don’t want to help? I don’t honestly care.

            Do you live in a neighbourhood where if you heard gunfire next door, you wouldn’t call the police? And when they did arrive because someone else did, you would say you didn’t see/hear nuffin’ and deny any knowledge of anyone who lived there or who their friends were? And then complain that police hadn’t solved the case because they were racist? Policing does cut both ways and there are vicious cycles of hopelessness and cynicism. In our high-crime neighbourhoods the police are down there all the time. It’s not true they aren’t well policed. We never went with defunding. Mayors gave it lip service so BLM wouldn’t resort to arson in the wake of Floyd but it wasn’t ever going to happen.

            Now, to this real-life milieu which I am merely reporting on, add a total ban on the possession of handguns, as some Canadian big-city mayors have been asking the federal government to enact. Already it is really difficult for an ordinary citizen to convince the police they have a legitimate need to have one. The guns on the streets in Toronto shooting schoolchildren in cross-fires are already illegal for all intents and purposes. Advice please on how you might enforce a total ban so as to disarm the criminal element of its handguns. That is what we want, right?

          2. Advice please on how you might enforce a total ban so as to disarm the criminal element of its handguns. That is what we want, right?

            Given that the US has 8x the violent gun crime of Canada, I’d be quite happy with adopting Canadian-style restrictions on gun ownership in the expectation or hope that we can achieve a Canadian-style rate of gun murder. I’d be even happier with UK style rules leading to a UK-style rate (a 100-fold decrease).

            So quit with the reductio ad absurdum demand that US liberals come up with a way to totally ban guns or (completely) disarm criminals. Of course that isn’t going to happen. It doesn’t happen anywhere. What we can and do very rationally expect, however, is that legal and social gun control models that have worked for other nations to reduce gun violence will work here too.

            And since the subject of this post is the Texas shootings, it worth pointing out that the perpetrator was not a criminal. Did not have any registered mental health issues. Was not on any watch list. Had not had any previous run-ins with law enforcement. The only way there would have been to prevent Ramos from legally having a gun would have been to adopt Canadian, UK, European or similar limitations on standard resident gun ownership.

    2. “Another statistic worth noting is that the average number of victims in a mass shooting when the perpetrator is stopped by law enforcement is 14. The average number when the shooter is stopped by a legally armed citizen is 2.5.”

      The average number when the shooter doesn’t have access to guns is 0. Great argument 🙂

      1. In Patrick’s mind, there will always be armed crazy people wandering around out there in society, so for him an armed citizenry makes sense.

        For many of us however, we question why we have to take it as a given that there will be some non-trivial number of crazy/violent people with guns walking around. It seems like other societies have been able to figure out how to prevent dangerous and unstable people from getting military grade weapons in the first place!

        Perhaps Patrick is correct in that the US is just too drenched in gun ownership and violence to ever hope of achieving that level of prevention, leaving us with only reactive measures as our options against gun violence.

      2. Great point Michael! It also underlines an important consideration when dealing with gun supporters: the liberal and decidedly non-rigorous use of statistics where it suits them. We have lots of savvy readers on this site, so I needn’t highlight the reasons this statistic may, or may not, accurately represent the argument it’s used to support.

        However, it goes without saying that before offering those numbers, they will have carefully controlled for every other possible factor. It’s certainly nothing to do with the fact that killers who hit double figures do so due to an arsenal of assault weapons and ammo powerful enough to render the solitary pistol of an untrained and terrified civilian, absolutely bloody useless.

        Although, I do wonder how many of those legally armed civilians stop the carnage, and incapacitate the shooter, by shooting themselves. It would be interesting to know….

    3. ” “Tombstone had much more restrictive laws on carrying guns in public in the 1880s than it has today,” says Adam Winkler, a professor and specialist in American constitutional law at UCLA School of Law. “Today, you’re allowed to carry a gun without a license or permit on Tombstone streets. Back in the 1880s, you weren’t.” Same goes for most of the New West, to varying degrees, in the once-rowdy frontier towns of Nevada, Kansas, Montana, and South Dakota.” From:
      “Gun Control Is as Old as the Old West: Contrary to the popular imagination, bearing arms on the frontier was a heavily regulated business”

    4. I’m not convinced of the mentioned “defensive gun use” statistic – there is little consensus on the figure mentioned.

      You and I have an argument. I started it by calling you a thief. It escalates to threats of violence. You are bigger than me. I pull out my gun and you run away. Defensive gun use, or typical senseless shooting, averted, this time, by a this or that?

      The other viewpoint:

    5. With all due respect, that’s the wrong metric to use. Defensive gun uses (DGUs) occur between 500,000 and 3 million times per year in the United States. In the vast majority of cases, a crime is stopped and a potential victim is protected without a shot being fired.

      This is nonsense. The very fact that your figure ranges from half a million to six times that amount shows that it is a finger in the air – probably one that has recently been used to pull some figures out of somebody’s arse.

      I assume we must be talking about crimes where the victim is present e.g. robbery rape, murder, assault etc and not things like car theft and most burglaries. There are only in the order of a million of these crimes committed each year. does it seem likely to you that between 30% and 80% of all crime to the person is prevented because somebody on the scene had a gun?

      Another problem is, of course, the matter of escalation. What takes a gun to prevent in the USA might only take a baseball bat to prevent in another country where the criminal doesn’t have a gun. In the UK, for example, criminals , even violent ones, rarely carry guns because they are hard to get hold of, and being caught carrying one is a mandatory prison sentence, if you don’t get shot by the armed response unit.

      And to echo other responses, poor people in inner cities deserve not to get shot just as much as you do.

  10. One thing that might help is if the US were to have federal regulations. This would stop rules changing from state to state and creating an uneven regulation system where someone could buy a gun out of state and use it in their own state, potentially avoiding checks and regulations. I always recommend the Canadian gun regulations over the UK ones for the US simply because Canada is the closest culture to the US and it works well for us. Yes, there are still people who disagree about the rules but you can see by the numbers that it isn’t too bad. A lot of the gun crime in Canada has involved illegal pistols purchased from the US.

    1. They already do and, for the most part, there is no “out of state” loophole. Buying a gun out of state is regulated federally as interstate commerce and must follow federal law, which requires that the gun be shipped to a federally licensed dealer in the buyer’s state of residence, who must apply all federal, state, and local laws for the buyer’s place of residence, put the buyer through a background check, etc. (It doesn’t matter if you buy it at a gun show or from a private party, either.)

      The only “loophole”, and it’s not really a legal loophole so much as a practical one, is the case of somebody who buys a gun in their state, and then later moves to another state. Now, federal law also regulates this, as may the state law of their new home, but since the gun is already in the person’s possession they can not know or forget or “forget” to follow the law.

      1. What about driving across state and buying a gun? That’s what I’m talking about not shipping.

    1. Canada is the nice quite couple living in the apartment upstairs from a bikers’ bar. It’s a lovely, commodious apartment with wonderful views of the surrounding provincial parks (even if the heating is a bit spotty), but it’s tough to get a decent night’s sleep what with the gunshots in the parking lot and the jukebox blaring below.

  11. “Some of you will protest that…it is disrespectful to the dead to use such a tragedy to score political points.”

    I would say that those that espouse such a view are themselves being disrespectful to the dead by dismissing efforts to work out how to stop such atrocities being repeated over and over as ‘scoring political points’.

  12. As you point out, mass shootings are not the majority of gun deaths. Obviously, they are significant to us because we hear about them on the evening news and we are appalled at the sheer number of people killed at one time. But there’s another reason they matter. They are shootings over which we have no control. We know how to avoid suicide. We think we can also avoid disputes involving guns. We can avoid being criminals or police officers. Not going to school or the supermarket is not an option.

    1. Yes, I think the psychology is a bit similar to that between car safety and airline safety. We FEEL in control in a car, at least, and we are also able to choose to act responsibly (though we often do not), whereas once we’re in a plane in the air, it’s out of our hands, but it’s very clear that we’re really much safer in an airplane than in a car.

      As with the cars, of course, we may know (roughly) how to avoid suicide, but clearly we’re not very good about doing it, and ditto with the others. But at least in the shooting case, attention can be turned to the larger, or broader, problem when it becomes heightened due to these headline-grabbing tragedies.

    2. Another thing regarding mass shootings, which I think is often overlooked, is the general long term affect on society in general of both having routine mass shootings and, perhaps worse, not doing anything effective to counter them. Similar to the concerns about a death penalty, the affects of the state killing criminals and the impact carrying out the killings has on the people involved, in both cases I think there is little doubt that these things are detrimental to achieving that better society that most people would like to see.

      To me the argument that the number of deaths due to mass shootings is tiny compared to the overall number of gun deaths and therefore these slaughters are an acceptable cost to maintain the insane 2A interpretation that is Scalia’s legacy is ludicrous, not to mention disgusting.

  13. Many excellent comments here. I would like to add two thoughts:

    1, I absolutely agree that to reduce gun deaths overall, much more needs to be addressed than just mass shootings. However, as the grandfather of a one year old, I am appalled to think that his future may be in schools run like prisons than like institutions for learning. Thus, regardless of the number of deaths, school shootings have an impact that goes far beyond just the victims and their families. I haven’t talked to my son and daughter-in-law about this, but I am sure they are thinking about this a lot.

    2. In this morning’s Cafe Insider newsletter (subscription only), attorney Barbara McQuade discusses the concept of “stochastic terrorism” – in her words “the incitement of a violent act through public demonization of a group or individual”. Examples she gives are fairly obvious – Tucker Carlson/Great Replacement” and Trump/January 6 (as well as Henry II/Beckett for the historically inclined). So how can this be addressed? For politicians who engage in it (e.g. MTG), she recommends voting them out, although that assumes free and fair elections. For others, like Carlson, the answer is not clear. But I strongly agree with here closing statement: “And we can start by using our own voices to call these people what they are – terrorists.”

    1. ” However, as the grandfather of a one year old, I am appalled to think that his future may be in schools run like prisons than like institutions for learning.”

      As the grandfather of a 5-year-old who goes to kindergarten next year in the public elementary school, I am appalled to think that his existential security is not at least equal to every Federal building, every statehouse, every public venue in America which all control ingress/egress through a single monitored entrance/exit.

      1. This comment spurred the question into my mind :

        How many religious schools are victims of shootings of this nature?

        How many _Christian_ pre-K-12 schools?

        Is it mostly _public_ schools in the U.S.?

    2. I like the way you put it in your thought #1, and this points to why I feel that Kristof is missing something in his citing of statistics in his article. It’s not a matter of just a simple quantitative analysis, it has to be a qualitative analysis, too. Though the number of deaths in mass shooting is minute compared with the total number of shooting deaths, the emotional impact of each of those deaths looms tremendously large in our national consciousness.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. Of course qualitative analysis is also crucial. Any time humans are involved it is necessary, absolutely essential. Human behavior at the level of individuals and various group sizes from family up to society are more important than the simple numbers. It’s sort of like the incentives problem. What kind of society do you want to live in? If you incentivize killing and, perhaps worse, acceptance of killing as a normal and routine cost of doing business, what will be the long term affects on the general moral zeitgeist of your society? Not good I think. Not the kind of society I’m hoping for.

    3. ‘Stochastic terrorism’ is a tough nut to crack. Incitement in general is a case where our laws try to draw a bright line on what is, in reality, a behavioral continuum. A little egging on has a low probability of inciting; likewise vague egging on. But as the amount and the specificity goes up, so does the likelihood of the incitement working to incite. I like and support the US’ very conservative (in the sense of narrow) notion of illegal incitement. However the internet should certainly cause us to rethink how to address lower-level incitement now that many more speakers can reach out and touch millions of listeners, since this means that even low-probability incitement might find at least one or two receptive individuals – particularly when it is repeated by multiple speakers.

      I’m not saying we should criminalize more speech. Education, gun control, changes to how our society views violence – maybe stuff like that is the right solution here. I think it’s a legit problem to study. I just don’t think “it’s a problem” necessarily leads to “censorship is the only solution.” As H.L. Mencken said, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.” Making low-level incitement illegal is probably the most well-known, neat, and plausible solution to the problem that it causes stochastic violence.

    1. Quite right, and I was thinking about the pushback Nader got from American car manufacturers (and their branch-plant Canadian operations) who really did make mostly over-powered tariff-protected junk back then. The father of a friend of mine drove a Corvair. What you raise shows how the analogy between cars and guns breaks down. I don’t think there was among car-buyers a culture that wanted automobiles to be designed to kill them or their families. Gun-owners resist gun regulation for reasons that simply don’t exist among car-owners.

      A better analogy might be the mandating of hastily designed bolt-on emissions-control measures to reduce urban air pollution from car exhaust. They appeared in Canada for the 1973 model year, just in time for the oil shock that ushered in a decade of stagflation. They were claimed to increase fuel consumption and reduce top-end power for reasons I never understood or fully believed, not being a regular driver at the time. They were bitterly resented by car guys who kept a thriving black-market going for removing “all that pollution shit” from the engines.

  14. And in a few weeks, SCOTUS is likely to lift all gun bans (like laws against conceal carry) that states have enacted over the years. They want to relinquish Roe v. Wade and send abortion rights back to the states, and yet they will strip a state’s right to enact its own gun laws. I wonder if this latest massacre will change any of the minds of the shameless, conservative judges.

  15. Tried to post this link earlier; either I goofed up or it violates Da Roolz or someone else’s? So, another try.
    Not all country is MAGA

  16. I’m not sure what “the indigenous American berserk” is …

    It comes from a line in American Pastoral, Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about US political unrest in the Sixties, though it could as well describe the US of the other two novels in Roth’s so-called “American Trilogy” — I Married a Communist (set in the McCarthy-era Fifties) and The Human Stain (set in the politically correct Nineties), or of his counterfactual novel regarding a Charles Lindbergh presidency on the eve of WW2, The Plot Against America.

  17. Sorry if this was mentioned in the article, but what about the odious PLCAA act the Bush signed in 2005 that basically protected gun manufacturers from litigation?

    Repealing this act must be a central part of attacking the gun violence problem. Gun manufacturers right now don’t even have minimal duties of care. If they had the same threat of litigation as automakers do, we would see much safer guns and a vast improvement in controls around distribution of guns to criminals.

    1. I’m also in favor of holding alcohol manufacturers accountable for the misery and deaths attributable to their product.

      By the way, the threat of litigation to car manufacturers is for products that do not perform per design intent and function. It is not of holding car manufacturers responsible when someone uses their car irresponsibly or against the law.

      Speaking of which, there’s nowhere in the US that has a speed limit above 85mph . . . yet many cars can easily go faster than that. Why don’t we legislate all cars can only reach a speed of 70mph? Heck, let’s be generous and go to 75mph.

      1. I think under minimal duty of care standards, gun manufacturers could be held accountable for distribution networks that effectively arm criminals. They know exactly who buys their guns. There must be effective controls that could be implemented that would stem this river of guns to criminals; these could be implemented by law thus establishing a legal duty to maintain them, and would provide remedies to affected citizens in the event of noncompliance.

        In addition, the same level of safety standards can be imposed on guns that were imposed on cars. If you look at the history of auto safety regulation, you will see that many car manufactures proclaimed as “too expensive” the very safety measures we now see as fundamental to car safety. But they figured out how to make them cost effective, and I see no reason why the gun industry could not do the same.

        1. I won’t address the “They know exactly who buys their guns.” I suspect that’s unlikely unless the owner registers the gun with the manufacturer, but since I don’t know for sure, I’ll let that slide.

          However, I can address the car issue . . .

          1) safety measures in no way affect the performance and main function of the car. Your current car is — fundamentally — the same as the first car. An engine, four wheels, and the means to steer them. The safety measures you mention are there to help mitigate deaths (but often not injuries) when the operator either makes a mistake or another operator makes a mistake and collides with your vehicle.

          2) those measures are expensive . . . Before the manufacturers implemented many of the expensive safety feature (there’s a huge cost to testing the performance before selling the vehicle), manufacturers waited until the public was agreeable to paying more for the features, and still cars manufacturers offset the cost by charging more for their product and by bundling them with other stuff; often high-margin stuff. And often by sacrificing the quality of other components. Have you seen the price of cars these days?

          3) Any proposed gun safety device that I’ve read about hampers the performance and function of the gun. What are you thinking could be done to ensure both safety and reliability? (hint: you could read about what’s been tried, proposed, and how those things have worked out).

          Just out of curiosity, what safety device are you envisioning that would have prevented this (or any) shooting?

          1. “I won’t address the “They know exactly who buys their guns.” I suspect that’s unlikely unless the owner registers the gun with the manufacturer, but since I don’t know for sure, I’ll let that slide.”

            Are you familiar with Purdue Pharma, makers of Oxycontin? They also tried to argue that they had no idea that their product was being overprescribed by shady doctors and also ending up in the hands of drug dealers.

            Turns out, they not only knew this, but actively promoted it. It was after all making them billions of dollars.


            It’s quite simple…corporations know where their money comes from, directly or indirectly. Only the incredibly naïve would believe that gun manufactures are unable to understand or unaware of the full supply chain from manufacturing to distribution to end user.

            In the case of guns, manufactures clearly see criminals as a “market” in the same way that Purdue saw drug addicts as a market, increasing demand for the product.

          2. One great gun safety device is a serious safe.

            By analogy to requiring car owners to have insurance against harm to others, we could require gun owners to have insurance against some huge fines we impose if your gun ever ends up where it shouldn’t be. Say $10K if you cannot present it in person to renew your license, and 1M if some criminal uses it. Such insurance would not be so expensive if you have a duck-shooting gun in a safe on your ranch. It would be very expensive if you want to keep a glock under your pillow downtown.

            My hope here would be to stem the flow of formerly legal guns into criminal hands, which is (I think) what accounts for most murders. I’m not sure it would do much about shootings like this one — although like car insurance, I’m sure it would be much more expensive for guys who have just turned 18.

          3. “3) Any proposed gun safety device that I’ve read about hampers the performance and function of the gun. What are you thinking could be done to ensure both safety and reliability? (hint: you could read about what’s been tried, proposed, and how those things have worked out).”

            Where does that come from, the NRA handbook?

            How about relatively simple smart gun technology as described here?


            I think that the gun nuts are starting to come out of the woodwork. As soon as someone starts proposing even modest changes to the status quo, we get these proclamations that “nothing can be done!”

          4. Back when I was in law enforcement, I would have loved to have a gun that only I could fire as officers do get killed with their own gun. While there are some devices out there, research into making better and more reliable technology has been stymied by the NRA and fellow gun nuts who oppose it, for no rational reason that I know of. The fear, of course, of technology, is that it won’t work when you need it, and that might be why people are afraid of the idea. The solution is to put a bunch of money into research and development to come up with systems that work very well.

          5. Hmm . . . insults. Good approach, that. For sure I will now agree with you.

            I have a phone with fingerprint scanner. It works about 75% of the time . . . when it doesn’t work, it’s an inconvenience at best since I have a backup way of unlocking it.

            The link you provide is laughable at best (including the heavier trigger suggestion). The electronic suggestion is neither relatively simple nor easily implemented.

            Perhaps you should read why cops donlt want those features, especially since about 5% of cops who are killed get shot with their own weapon. 40 years ago, the figure was closer to 20%. The weapons haven’t changed. It’s training and better practices.

            I assume those suggestions are straight out of a Liberal’s “I don’t know nuthin’ about securin’ no guns” handbook.I also assume you have little to no use for guns and think you never will. Good for you, but that’s not me, Joe.

            Let me ask you . . . if a kid gets a hold of a gun, why not hold parents responsible for not supervising them, or securing the guns? Throw the bastards in jail and farm out the kids to responsible parents.

            Come to think of it, why not hold parents responsible for everything that their offspring do wrong. Both criminally and monetarily responsible. In fact, as a member of VHEMT, I don’t understand why we allow humans to reproduce at all, let alone reproduce when demonstrably incapable themselves.

            But, that’s neither here or there.

            You’ve yet to propose “modest” changes.

            And, I’ve exhausted my patience. If you really want to make a difference, study, learn, familiarize yourself with the many uses and applications of weapons, how they function, why some people (me included) would rather have one than not. Then, maybe, we can come to an understanding and perhaps affect change.

          6. You said: “safety measures in no way affect the performance and main function of the car.” That’s simply not true though. Safety features in modern cars (extra width, thicker glass, longer crumple zones, reinforcing structures, computer controlled breaking systems and steering correction etc) very much hamper performance. Safety features are the main contributor to the heavier weight of modern cars. They add hundreds of kilograms to a car, reducing acceleration, impairing cornering/handling, increasing braking distances and fuel consumption. Car owners accept that as a tradeoff, they have to.

          7. You’re speaking to someone who worked in the auto industry for 30 years designing structure. Nearly everything you said is wrong, including modern cars being heavier. No, sorry, I read that over again … Everything you said is wrong.

          8. OK, so I’m pretty knowledgeable on cars too. Are you claiming extra weight doesn’t decrease the car’s agility? Are you saying that crumple zones don’t add to size and weight? Vehicles do not have thicker, heavier glass? Vehicle width doesn’t affect weight distribution and handling? Braking distances aren’t increased by that extra weight?

            Why is the BMW E46 M3 convertible a full 180 KG heavier that the hardtop? Are you saying that the extra weight is just there for fun, not safety and stability? Why is it that the the convertible carrying 180 KG more is 0.5 seconds slower 0-60 mph? How can you sensibly claim that this extra weight doesn’t increase fuel consumption, or that cars don’t weight more??? They do in Europe, a lot more, and weight reduces performance, drastically so.

            You will have to do better than that my friend, as what you are saying, is in my opinion, not true. But please feel free to offer evidence to the contrary. All the best!

          9. It all depends what you’re comparing. Cars have gotten heavier because of size. Comparable cars are not heavier than their counterparts 40-50 years. While I agree any addition to vehicles increase weight, today we use thinner steels (and use it more efficiently) and composites, glass is thinner than it used to be, hence the increased wind noise and transmissibility of exterior noise … Which then requires non-structural sound deadening (which does a poor job).

            Engines are lighter and so are many components.

            The convertible is heavier because to accomodate idiots who want one you have to destroy the original safety cage structure (few convertibles are designed as such from scratch, and even if they are, it’s difficult to wholly replace the loss of the upper load path) and you have to add back less efficient (and thus heavier) structure (and it’s still crap as far as structure and ride). I guess you can say it’s safety related, but I’d call that idiot related.

            Look at a model from 40 years ago and compare it to a modern version … You’ll see that the physical size increased enough to send the modern model to a different weight class … Because it’s larger..

            So, if you’re saying bigger cars are heavier, I agree with you.

            If you’re saying that’s safety features contribute to weight, I’d partially agree with you … Larger cars require more mass.

            And, yes, we add mass when we add multiple airbags and stuff. Meaning, that’s nonstructural weight that wasn’t there before. Doesn’t mean the cars are heavier than comparable cars from the last century because we made other advanced to compensate for them.

            Now, if you get into different trim levels, larger wheels, accessories (all non-safety items, also customer driven) then you’re adding useless weight that also never used to be there.

            Increased vehicle weight is driven by customers wanting larger cars. That drives everything else.

            But, if you’re saying cars would be lighter without the safety features, then, yes, I agree with you.

            They’re also lighter with smaller engines, smaller wheels, smaller trucks, smaller everything.

          10. Smaller trunks, not trucks (but, smaller trucks are also lighter than large ones).

            I’m not sure why we’re discussing this, but if you’re comparing car safety to gun safety, advances in manufacturing and materials have made guns lighter, smaller, and safer … for the user.

            However, like cars, when misused, not safe for anyone else.

      2. I agree. I think a car with a 200-500 hp engine is an absurdity, especially since gasoline becomes expensive. I have a car with a 65 hp engine that gets me anywhere I want. In the past I owned Citroen Deux-Chevaux (30 hp) that got me everywhere in Europe, even crossing some of the 6000 ft high-passes in the Alps

        1. My car has 295hp. I can tell you that, even when driving within the law, as I do at all times, it has an advantage over a car with 65hp. It doesn’t sound like a box of angry wasps about to explode when driving at the national speed limit. It gives me enough acceleration (with quite a large margin) to get from slow to motorway speed easily even if the on ramp is quite steep uphill. Also, because it’s a performance car, the brakes are unbelievable.

          It’s also surprisingly economical but that’s because I live within walking distance of my place of work so I don’t need to use it for my regular commute.

      3. Since you ask why cars are powerful enough to exceed speed limits, albeit as a rhetorical question, it’s because a lot of people like to drive fast. And their advocacy for their focussed joy of high-powered cars is more concentrated than are half-hearted proposals to limit car speeds to below the speed limit from people who have a whole bunch of things on their mind and the evil of fast cars just doesn’t make the daily to-do list. Industry would prefer to sell cars that people want to buy and many people are still driving at 85-90 mph even with gasoline so expensive. So proposed changes to car power would lead to car nuts and socks-and-sandals types yelling at each other until the legislators realize there is no political way forward and lose interest.

        Guns are the same thing. Calls to regulate rapidly fade away while resistance is hard, committed, and enduring.

        1. As an automotive engineer, I can add that it’s also because of safety. You want to have reserve power and speed for certain situations, and you would not want to constantly operate a system at the top of its performance spectrum.

          Besides, distracted and inexperienced drivers are more of a problem than typical high-performance car drivers.

          My comments about limiting speed was what I call irony.

          For the record, “regular” non-car-nut drivers would also object to lower speeds. Remember the 55mph speed limit?

          1. While I agree with your points, certainly as they would apply to any hard mechanical limits in engine power for example, I’d think you could limit cars in software.

            For safety and reliability reasons you may want the car to have enough mechanical power to run continuously at the speed limit up an incline while pulling a load. Then, the speed limit could be imposed in software. It could even let people exceed the limit briefly and occasionally, for passing or to get out of the way.

            Now, I wouldn’t want a car like that, but I think it’d be easy to make one.

          2. Yes, Disperser, I realize I was really agreeing with you once I decoded the irony, especially your sub-speed limit maximum, and was aiming more at people who really do argue that way.
            I do remember the 55 mph speed limit. Traveling in the United States on your magnificently engineered rural Interstates was painful, with Michigan and New York State Troopers ever watchful for foreign cowboys. Ours at home never went below 100 km/hr on rural controlled-access divided highways, never rigidly enforced and hardly at all today. That 7 mph made a big difference.

            During the gradual relaxation and return to more realistic speed limits, there would appear editorials in medical journals decrying “the decision by yet another state to sacrifice the lives of x number of its citizens on the altar of motorist convenience.” The 55 was to save gas but its staying power was crash deaths, a classic example of how power exploits mission creep.

          3. You need reserve power for maybe a second or two of unusual acceleration. Any more than that, you’ve already crashed or you weren’t actually in an emergency situation. Given that, a car expected to reach speeds of 65-70 mph maybe needs to be able to go 85 mph. It does not need to be able to go any faster than that, because it would never be able to accelerate to 100 mph or 125 mph or whatever in the 1-2 seconds you’d have to react to an immediate hazard. The extra power in many US cars is designed to increase sales, not designed to increase safety.

            Just as the wide variety of pseudo-military-style guns is designed to increase sales. These are not designs for better deer hunting or duck hunting or shooting a burglar 10 feet away from you in your bedroom, or whatever other excuse gun nuts try to throw down.

    2. How is this different from the situation with automakers? Or rather, how should it be different?

      The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) is a United States law that protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their products. Both arms manufacturers and dealers can still be held liable for damages resulting from defective products, breach of contract, criminal misconduct, and other actions for which they are directly responsible. They may also be held liable for negligent entrustment when they have reason to know a gun is intended for use in a crime.

      Automakers can be sued if they make a bad product. They cannot be (successfully) sued if somebody uses a working vehicle to run somebody over. The PLCAA only protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits that would be regarded as frivolous, certainly in almost any other context.

      If anything, PLCAA-like protections should be extended to all companies. The general aviation industry in America was largely destroyed by frivolous lawsuits, often from the widows of pilots who got themselves killed through no fault of the manufacturer. (Most certificated GA aircraft flown today were built half a century ago, before the industry died. They’re like cars in Cuba…)

      Or do you think automakers should have to pay if a perfectly good automobile is used by a criminal to commit vehicular homicide?

  18. All very interesting reading, both the post and the comments.

    I could add thousands of words to the discussion but it’s frowned upon, so I’ll keep it short and mention a few things (by the way, I own guns and I’m licensed to carry).

    1) I’m in favor of any measure that will stop school shooting. I should add ‘realistic’ but that’s the problem. These incidents are difficult to pigeonhole so as to address them proactively.

    2) I’m in favor of treating guns like cars . . . wait … we let 16-year-olds drive cars. Scratch that. I’m in favor of limiting gun ownership by age . . . wait… we send 18-year-olds into battle with automatic rifles. Scratch that.

    3) Out of our concern for our children, let’s also severely restrict alcohol (about 12 kids per day die due to alcohol-related causes) availability. I mention this because I don’t drink, so it wouldn’t affect me one bit. As a bonus, it would also eliminate significant misery from the lives of many. (

    4) I’m in favor of not disclosing the mass shooting perpetrators since they try to one-up each other. Oh, wait . . . name and photo already pasted everywhere, along with saying he only made it to the second-worse shooting incident.

    5) I’m in favor of giving the government broad and sweeping powers to control and regulate even private aspects of a person’s life … er … no, wait; I can see how that might not work out so well.

    OK, I give up . . . let’s hear some solutions from people with strong opinions about the matter. And I don’t mean simple stuff like ban all guns because I certainly won’t agree to that. Well, I would, if we also ban all alcohol. I mean, we know we can do it, right? Look how well we’re doing on the war on drugs.

    I don’t mean to be flippant here, but I get irritated when I read some stuff. Before forming an opinion, do some research. Especially read law-enforcement references. Think about the fact that nothing is simple. Think about how compromise in good faith is the key to meaningful change. Maybe even read why the NRA is so hard-nosed about its positions (no, I’m not a member, and no, I don’t agree with many of their positions).

    Also, realize that the NRA is gun owners; gun owners drive the NRA, not the other way around (unlike the case with political parties). As a gun owner, if you want me on board, don’t start with “give up your guns”.

    1. For them who like numbers:

      How many of those deaths make the news? Do we read about the tragedy of their lives being cut short? Do we learn their names?

      I’m willing to bet if the news reported every one of those deaths as they report shootings, we could make significant inroads into curbing them . . . or not; I understand alcohol drinkers are somewhat reluctant to giving up their favorite legal mind-altering drug.

    2. “I’m in favor of treating guns like cars . . . wait … we let 16-year-olds drive cars. Scratch that. I’m in favor of limiting gun ownership by age . . . wait… we send 18-year-olds into battle with automatic rifles. Scratch that”

      Why “scratch that”? We only “let” 16 year olds drive cars after they have passed licensing standards! And as for sending 18 year olds into battle…again, we only do that AFTER they have passed entrance standards into the military AND and have been trained in how to use these weapons. Any 18 year old under those circumstances who shows mental illness or just sheer incompetence would NOT be handed a weapon and sent into battle.

      So your comment actually supports the notion of treating gun ownership similar to car ownership, provided we have rigorous licensing standards (not mere “background checks”, which have limited effectiveness) and ways to demonstrate competence.

      1. Believe me, I’m in strong favor of that . . . I take gun ownership seriously, and no one should have a gun without proving they know how it functions, know how to use it safely, know how to keep it secure, and be proficient in its use.

        But, after that, I should be able to walk around with a gun wherever I want, anywhere in the country.

        Is that what you’re proposing? Because I’m right there with you if that’s the case. It irks me that to get my carry license I had to clear two different background checks, have 16 hours of training (run by police officers), demonstrate proficiency in use, and then, despite CCW holders in general having a much lower case of criminal behavior than cops, I’m restricted in where I can carry.

        So, yes, treat guns like cars; once I have my license, I want to have the freedom to use and buy whatever car I want, including a truck, and drive it anywhere.

        Now, on a more serious note:
        “We only “let” 16 year olds drive cars after they have passed licensing standards!”

        Wow, and exclamation point. You got me!! (two exclamation points)

        . . . except, that I know of, defensive driving is not required to get a license. In fact, the training you speak of is minimal, and does not involve much in the way of licensing beyond knowing the operation of the car. it doesn’t test reaction times, driving under stress or in multiple conditions, or other situational training. If you can operate a car under controlled conditions, you get a license.

        Please, look at insurance statistics for teen drivers (even sober ones), or even for people in their early 20s.

        As for the army, if we trust them so much, why do we want to limit them being able to buy guns when they get out?

        1. Hey, I’m all in favor of stricter licensing standards for driving and longer training periods in the US. We could even raise the age to 18.

          Citing inadequate licensing standards is not an argument against licensing standards per se.

        2. But you *don’t* have the freedom to drive your car anywhere. There are areas (more common in Europe, but found in the US as well) where a street is a pedestrian mall and it’s off-limits to all cars except emergency vehicles and, say, delivery trucks between 4 and 6 a.m. You can think of no-carry zones as the equivalent of this.

          1. *sigh* It’s just an example of how licensing would work if a gun license was the same as driver licenses. For instance, I wouldn’t need to pass a driver test for every car I own. And, I wouldn’t have to swap cars whenever I crossed a state line.

            Yes, there are areas where I can’t drive a car . . . and I don’t.

            Likewise, I think of no-carry zones as target areas I want to avoid unless absolutely necessary. And if I have to go to one, I then carry other legal means of self protection. Inadequate, but legal.

            But, mostly, I don’t go places where guns aren’t allowed or prohibited because while I obey the law, criminals don’t.

          2. “And if I have to go to one, I then carry other legal means of self protection. Inadequate, but legal.”

            As a matter of interest have you ever been attacked? I am curious as to why you feel so threatened that you need to take a defensive weapon everywhere you go.

        3. But, after that, I should be able to walk around with a gun wherever I want, anywhere in the country.

          Why? Why do you need to be able to walk anywhere you like whilst in possession of a deadly weapon?

          1. I’m still getting notices, and I don’t want to be rude, so I’ll attempt some closing remarks.

            @ Jonathan and Jeremy:

            Let me turn the tables: why do you, Jeremy and Jonathan, object to me doing so?

            Specifically to me, why do you object to me owning and legally carrying a weapon? Do you know something about me that worries you?

            I’ll entertain reasonable answers and try to address them, but if your reasoning is “we don’t see the need for you to do so”, then we’re at an impasse because I do.

            I’ll give the short answer (there is a longer answer I don’t owe to anyone): I carry a gun for the same reason I have house insurance, a separate liability insurance, and health insurance. The same reason I put in a tornado shelter when I moved into my current house even though no tornado has hit where I live in the past 40 years and many more years before that. The same reason I had defensive driving training.

            It’s not that I feel threatened . . . it’s that I like to be prepared for what I can envision as a potential threat.

            What I don’t understand, is why that’s a threat to others.

          2. Specifically to me, why do you object to me owning and legally carrying a weapon? Do you know something about me that worries you?

            Given that I know nothing about you, there’s a non zero probability that you will use the said lethal weapon to try to murder somebody.

            I carry a gun for the same reason I have house insurance, a separate liability insurance, and health insurance. The same reason I put in a tornado shelter when I moved into my current house even though no tornado has hit where I live in the past 40 years and many more years before that. The same reason I had defensive driving training.

            But do you understand that your gun actually makes you less safe than not having one? If you buy a gun, the person most likely to be killed by it is you – or a member of your family.

            What I don’t understand, is why that’s a threat to others

            You don’t understand why people carrying lethal weapons around is a threat to others? Really?

          3. See, these are what I call dishonest arguments. Let me reply in kind.

            1) I can use the same argument about people owning cars, having kids, knives, cooking meals in public restaurants, workers who design and build bridges, and so on. But, wait . . . you don’t trust anyone unless personally approved by you? Do you accept nothing but a zero possibility of a negative outcome for everything, or just me owning a gun?

            2) No, I don’t understand that a gun makes me less safe. What you are quoting has been debunked so often that one has to willingly ignore conflicting data to make that claim. But, again, for the sake of argument . . . you are more likely to die or be seriously injured in a vehicular accident if you own a car than if you don’t. Same for being cut by a knife if you own a knife. I could go on, but I hope you see the logic you’re trying to use.

            3) No, I don’t. Explain it to me. Explain how me carrying anything makes me a threat to others. No, on second thought, don’t explain it because I seriously doubt we’re going to arrive at a point of mutual understanding.

            Basically, you’re claiming the right to oversee my choices in life, while denying me the right to reciprocate . . . and I’m the one who’s dangerous?

            Seriously, I’ve again fallen for the hope of a serious discussion. Won’t happen again.

            Say, you know what? let me point you to something you might consider reading:


            There are companion pieces to that piece, especially the one on violence, but if you wish to understand my impetus for owning and being proficient with a gun, that piece might help you out.

            If you just keep insisting I don’t need, shouldn’t have, a gun, then we’re done talking and I consider you a part of why there’s little hope for meaningful change.

          4. I was struck by Harris’ argument that owning a gun should have requirements commensurate with that of owning or flying a plane or helicopter. Or more so.

            Because it seems that is not ever how it was, or is now.

          5. There are nuances to that argument, but in general, I agree. The question is how to get there.

            Also, most of the people here probably don’t live or have ever lived anywhere with a high probability of facing deadly violence, hence their smugness regarding not needing a gun.

            I’d like to know what people propose one should do when faced with deadly violence. They, naively, often say to call the police. Police are on record as saying they are not responsible for your safety. Now what?

          6. The Sam Harris blog post is really good. Fair minded of him, and of you to link to it.

  19. “only 589 killed others in justified self-defense compared to 11,760 homicides”. The goal of self defense is not to kill the person threatening you, it is to deter them from harming you (or your family). Two people I am close to used guns to deter imminent violence from home invaders. Neither fired a shot.
    Nobody has good data on successful self defense, because it is preventative in nature. One thing we have to deal with regularly are poachers. They are armed criminals by definition. When I go out to talk with them, I am certainly going to be visibly armed. I have never needed to point a gun at any of them, much less fire. But the idea is to let them know that we are watching, and prepared to defend ourselves. I don’t consider that defensive gun use specifically, because if I went out and confronted them unarmed, they were likely to just go away, which is what I want them to do. But you never know. People who want to rob a home tend to look for signs that the occupants are wealthy, and not present. Home invaders expect you to be home, because they either want to force you to lead them to the valuables, or because they like hurting people. I am confident that such folks will always choose a home that appears undefended over one where they expect the homeowners to respond with force. None of my neighbors want to become the Next Clutter family.

    Calling the cops is a great idea if you live in a place where they are likely to respond. If you live in a county with four cops, they are probably not going to do much except take a report hours or days after the event. Our police department is not even open on weekends. If you call them, you get transferred to a larger town two hours away.

    Honestly, I don’t know what to think about the suicide rate. I do think it is better for the despondent person to shoot or asphyxiate themselves in a locked room, rather than drive into oncoming traffic or jump off a building onto pedestrians. I don’t think depriving such people of one method of doing it is going to fix them.

    Guns are not complex machines like fusion reactors. If you cast a magic spell, and made every gun in the world vanish, shootings would start again in a matter of hours. If you made every civilian-owned gun vanish, criminals who wished to obtain them would start carrying stolen or smuggled police or military firearms, or just manufacture them. In places where criminals have turned to manufacturing, they tend to make submachine guns, since they require about the same level of manufacturing skill. So you end up with perhaps fewer guns on the street, but the gang members are all carrying Sten guns.

    1. Yes to the deterrence idea. The statistics for how many home invaders actually get shot (or even shot at, or even shown a gun) seems about as informative as counting how many burglars actually end up skewered on spiked fencing.

      I think that for suicide, availability of lethal means really is a big factor. Some will of course find other ways, but many won’t. Or at least this is my understanding of the research on what happens when other relatively common means are taken away. (Starting IIRC with studies of a change from coal-gas to natural gas.)

      I’m sure the number of armed gang members depends strongly how readily ordinary factory-made guns can be bought. Not many so reports of criminals in the UK or Australia being armed with home-made guns. Instead they are just less likely to be armed than their counterparts in (say) France or Sweden, where smuggling from less organized parts of the continent is easier. But how quickly any remotely plausible US policy could reduce the pool of available weapons… maybe there are studies on this? I mean something like average age of illegal firearms confiscated — is this 5 years or 50?

      1. I can add some information about time and the viability of firearms and ammo. A gun, protected from rust, lasts essentially forever. There are always springs involved, and if the gun is stored with the springs under tension, there is some possibility that they would need to be replaced to get the gun to meet original performance specs.
        Ammunition produced during or after WW1 is reasonably reliable today, as long as it has been kept dry. If you relied on such ammo, you would have occasional misfires. Anything WW2 or later is probably close to 100% reliable. The thing is, it is not really age that is the major issue, but improved quality. Most of the ammo we shoot on the ranch is from the mid 50s. There was a time when it was very inexpensive military surplus, and we bought a great deal of it.

        As I understand the issue of gang violence, it has a lot to do with the specifics of competition between gangs. In the US, gangs compete with each other both for access to wholesale drugs from the cartels, and for customers and territory at the retail level. It is not really related to the percentage of ranchers in Colorado who own guns.

        1. OK, this was roughly my impression about old guns, mechanically. But I’d bet there are very few WWII pistols being used for drive-by shootings in Chicago today, even though they would work fine.

          Old ones must slowly get lost / captured / thrown in the river. And there’s some pipeline from legally bought guns from two states over, stolen guns, imported guns… from the serial numbers of illegal guns found by police, people probably know roughly long they stay in circulation?

          There are some manufactured guns, thanks for the link. But not many, right now, is my impression. And often only one or two home-made parts, because laws designed for an older world only regulate those.

          1. The Canadian Army still uses pre-WW2-vintage automatic pistols as sidearms, modern updates being lost in procurement purgatory. During the actual WW2 we used revolvers. I don’t know how many German soldiers were actually shot with any sidearm but there is a story of a Canadian officer who chased a German soldier into some kind of redoubt. He drew his revolver and in a loud authoritative voice ordered the German to come out and surrender as a POW. To his amazement, several dozen German soldiers emerged with their hands on their heads. Not a shot was fired.

          2. According to DOJ, 32% of guns traced in connection with a crime are 5 years old or newer. Criminals prefer, and are most often found with, large caliber handguns, mostly those that fire .38 special. That round was used by police departments from the 1920s to the 90s.

            “legally bought guns from two states over” If you buy a gun with the intent to resell it, that is a felony. One of the questions you fill out on the federal background check form asks you about that specifically, and warns you about the law. When you sign the form, you are swearing to a number of specific questions about your legal status and intentions. After you sigh, the dealer transmits the form to the FBI, performs a background check before you can receive the gun. So it is not a legally bought gun from two states over. If the dealer is aware that you are purchasing for someone else, and sells you the gun anyway, he gets to join you in the Big House.

    2. “Guns are not complex machines like fusion reactors. If you cast a magic spell, and made every gun in the world vanish, shootings would start again in a matter of hours. If you made every civilian-owned gun vanish, criminals who wished to obtain them would start carrying stolen or smuggled police or military firearms, or just manufacture them. In places where criminals have turned to manufacturing, they tend to make submachine guns, since they require about the same level of manufacturing skill. So you end up with perhaps fewer guns on the street, but the gang members are all carrying Sten guns.”

      Within hours? OK, so there might be a tiny, tiny percentage of previous gun owners who are enterprising enough and criminal enough to build new (very substandard) guns immediately, maybe one or two could actually steal arms from the police while unarmed themselves. Impressive as these people would be, it’s just a silly argument. If those ‘magic spell’ laws were passed, buying or making suitably professional firearms would not be trivial. Also, it’s a lot easier to track such happenings, rather than following everyone who had a gun previously. I’m from the UK, and I can assure you that pretty much anywhere you try across Western Europe, you would have to have a LOT of money and great connections. You would also be very likely to get arrested and put away for a LONG time. Trafficking, buying and selling firearms is dealt with very seriously in most European countries. In the UK, the very limited number of firearms in circulation is largely a function of how difficult they are to get a hold of, how difficult it is to get them without being noticed, and how serious the penalties are if you are caught. These factors also make guns so expensive that they are kept out of the reach of nearly all criminals. A further protection is that given these conditions, serious gang land criminals will avoid using guns where at all possible, to do otherwise is to pile considerable (and traceable) heat on themselves.

    3. This may seem as insensitive to the topic here, but I must ask. You ever get that augmented canine ball throwing device/gun to work? I hope your Brittany is doing well. I appreciate many folks I’ve met on WEIT and try to remember their endeavors, but for whatever reason, your gunpowder empowered dog-flinging device has always intrigued me.

      Having lived in WY for many years, and around folks with lots of land and poachers, your rational for gun ownership in those far-off places is indisputable as far as I’m concerned.

      1. Thank you for remembering. Yes, it was finished, and works wonderfully. Too well. Figuring the correct charge was a task. I started with the approximate load they would have used to lob a grenade in the mid 1600s. That just collapsed the racquet ball completely, and it flopped about 50 feet and dropped onto the ground. I kept lowering the charge, and discovered the optimum charge for the farthest flight. I don’t know how far, but way, way far. It was like a cartoon. I shot at about 45 degrees from the horizon, the charge went off, and I could see the black ball receding into infinity. It never stopped gaining altitude before it got too small to see. When I got to about 10% of the optimum charge, it shoots the ball at a nice arc to about 100 yards. The dog loves it, and it costs about nothing to fire. I added a little quail scent to the balls to help the dogs track them

        1. Excellent! You’re description of the “farthest flight” is hilarious. Thanks for filling me in. That sounds like a lot of fun…for you and the dog. Shooting a ball 100 yards out, no doubt the quail scent will help. Plus, it’s good exercise and a nice way to hone their tracking skills.

  20. “If you cast a magic spell, and made every gun in the world vanish, shootings would start again in a matter of hours. If you made every civilian-owned gun vanish, criminals who wished to obtain them would start carrying stolen or smuggled police or military firearms, or just manufacture them. In places where criminals have turned to manufacturing, they tend to make submachine guns, since they require about the same level of manufacturing skill. So you end up with perhaps fewer guns on the street, but the gang members are all carrying Sten guns.”

    There are countries in the world, such as Japan and others cited in the article, that have effectively made private ownership of guns “vanish”.

    So in those countries, have all of these negative effects that you predict come to pass? I don’t think they have.

    1. The question then is: do we want to have the same laws as Japan? Also, do we want to be a homogeneous society like Japan?

      I’d also like to know how Tokyo has only 40 or so muggins a year. Maybe whatever they’re doing could be implemented here, and then I’d agree to maybe not needing a gun.

      Wasn’t there a song about ‘turning Japanese”?

      1. Japan isn’t the only country in the World where private gun ownership has virtually vanished. It’s just an example. The UK also has virtually no gun ownership. Even our police officers don’t routinely carry firearms.

        Also, what makes you say Japan has a homogenous society? I’ve only seen a very small part of it, but it doesn’t seem any more homogenous than any other foreign country I’ve been to.

        1. My apologies. Perhaps I said it wrong.

          My perception is that Japan is a much more homogeneous society than the United States. By that I mean that there few language differences, and lifestyles are similar between social classes, as well as less economic differentiation between the rich and the poor.

          Japan has a fairly low crime rate relative to the US (all crimes, not just gun crime). It can’t just be the absence of guns.

          To what then would you attribute that significant difference between crime in the US and crime in Japan?

          Are you saying it’s all because their strict gun policies? How do their gun policies affect non-gun crimes?

          For that matter, the UK’s crime index is twice that of Japan. Since they both have strict gun laws, what factors would you say contribute to the difference?

          My feeling about comparing countries is that it’s useless taking one metric as a basis and making that the linchpin of a discussion.

          Again, perhaps I’m way off base.

          Still, I hope my answer satisfies.

          1. It is difficult to make sense of inter-country comparisons. Canada’s gun laws have been mentioned by me and others but I would never argue for them simply to be ported into the U.S. For one thing, only one end of the spectrum would like them. They would seem draconian to the rest.

            It’s deeper than just guns. The law of self-defence in Canada is itself different. You are in general not allowed to carry any weapon, even an unrestricted one like a shotgun or a hunting knife, in public for the purpose of self-defence, period. It is considered a breach of the peace. If you are menaced by an armed assailant, even in your home, you have a duty to flee if you can. There is no castle doctrine. If you use deadly force in any circumstance, you will always be charged with second-degree murder. At your trial, you may invoke self-defence but the judge will charge the jury to be scrupulously skeptical of your claim to have so acted. The Crown will cross you as to why you were armed with deadly force in the first place. Outside your home, that by itself will undermine most claims of self-defence. Acquittals are exceedingly rare. But so are killings where the defence even arises.

            You would never see in Canada stories like where American sheriffs or DAs decide not to charge home or business owners who do the system a favour by shooting intruders dead. You will always go on trial for murder and lose your life savings to your lawyer. I think this is why most Canadians don’t bother arming themselves—we would most likely end up broke and in prison, even if the bad guy lived, and we’d have to deal with his friends and relatives in the pen with us.

            I’m not arguing for or against our law, just pointing out that gun laws live within a larger framework of how society regards the use of deadly force. In Canada we are meant to flee, not fight. It seems to work for us.

          2. I die. Seriously.

            But if I were in a blind alley with a handgun and an assailant with a knife was coming at me, of course I would shoot him as dead as I could possibly make him. I would be charged with murder. The Crown would try to convince the jury that I was up to no good in the alley—I was carrying a restricted firearm without authorization, after all—and that I had lured him there to murder him. Remember, in Canada, the state is trying its best to convict me, not trying to find a reason to let me off. The only one in the show trying to do that is my own lawyer. The problem for me is that I committed a crime by taking the handgun into the alley. My assailant’s death will necessarily be manslaughter even if escape the murder rap on self-defence.

            There was a horrific home invasion in Saskatchewan several years ago where the two residents of a farm house were murdered in cold blood one night. Unarmed and unable to flee, they were bludgeoned to death. If you thought the injustice of this circumstance, rare as it is, was as troubling as a school shooting, you wouldn’t be wrong. Different countries? You bet.

    2. Mexico?

      The problem with such comparisons is that there are so many other factors to consider. Coincidentally, We were living in Japan when my dad bought me my first rifle, when I was nine. Gun laws there now are stricter than they were then, but it was, and remains, one of the safest places in the world.
      If I wanted to compare countries, I might go with Japan and Iceland. They are both island nations with fairly homogeneous populations. The homicide rate in both are virtually identical. But Iceland has over 30 guns per 100 residents, compared with Japan’s .3. Having spent time in both countries, I propose that the gun ownership rate is unrelated to the murder rates in those two places.

      It is very difficult to compare the US with anywhere else. It is hard enough to compare regions within the US to each other. My county has incredibly high rates of gun ownership. Instead of parks, we have a first rate public gun range. And we have almost no gun violence. Compared to Cook county, Illinois, we are like Iceland or Japan. (In fact, we have a much lower murder rate than Japan.) But even in Cook county, there are dangerous and reasonably safe neighborhoods.
      As best I can determine, there are a fairly small number of neighborhoods in US cities that are cesspools of gang violence and drug abuse. If one were to exclude those places from the national average, the US would rank alongside Western European countries, in terms of violent crime.

      1. I think this brushes at the deeper truths people don’t want to talk about. I’m fairly familiar with Japan and have spent some time living there. I firmly believe that in Japan an armed society would truly be a polite society – simply because modern Japanese are polite and nothing to do with the weapons. (Yes, some murders would still occur, as do now, but there would be no Japanese Detroit.)

        On the other hand, some peoples will try to kill each other even if they don’t have guns, as we see around the world: killings with knives, rocks, hands, and fists. Yes, they would be much less successful without guns. Murders would go down. But murder attempts? Not so much. (Maybe a bit due to the increased effort.) Baltimore with zero guns would still not be safe.

        Culture matters. Race probably matters.

  21. First, thank you for conceding the point that this doomsday scenario that with less access to guns, “shootings would start again in a matter of hours.” That’s silly and I’m glad to see you recognized that now.

    “The question then is: do we want to have the same laws as Japan? Also, do we want to be a homogeneous society like Japan?”

    Now, you’ve shifted the topic to something else. First, it’s not just Japan. Australia has also had massive success with reducing both mass shootings and gun violence overall. Same in the UK and Germany. And these are not all “homogenous societies” like Japan so that red herring can be thrown out the window.

    So different societies have found ways to do this. Switzerland has high rates of gun ownership yet has little gun violence, but of course they have nowhere near the “wild west” mentality on gun regulation that we seem to have.

    For our society, I see no reason why a combination of 1) stricter gun licensing laws 2) removal of liability protection for the gun industry like the PLCAA 3) safety regulation of guns similar to the auto industry, and even 4) severe restrictions or outright banning of certain types of weapons and ammunition cannot significantly curtail the gun violence while at the same time allowing responsible gun owners to continue to have firearms.

    1. “Switzerland has high rates of gun ownership yet has little gun violence” What I remember is that the Swiss, after doing their military service, do keep their gun. But they are not allowed to own ammunition.

    2. Joe, Joe, Joe . . . you brought up other countries, not me. All I’m doing is pointing out that we’re not other countries. Japan’s culture is not our own, and neither are the cultures of the other countries you mention. Heck, the most obvious difference should give you pause . . . population.

      What works there, and why it works there, and how it works there, are all relevant to a discussion as to what would work here. And, yes, there is a ‘gun culture’ here, and it would behoove you to understand a little about it.

      And please stop being purposefully obtuse toward arguments you don’t agree with. That path is a path to no change.

      If you want to join responsible gun owners in affecting change, stop calling them gun nuts. Research US laws about liability, especially of products. Actually try to do a comparison of car safety measures to gun safety measures to see how silly you sound to anyone who knows guns.

      And with that, I’m done. This gun nut is going home to more productive and satisfying endeavors.

      1. “Joe, Joe, Joe…”

        “And please stop being purposefully obtuse toward arguments…”

        Sorry buddy, but although you have some decent points, you’re way too condescending to continue to engage with.

        I see that I triggered you for using the term “gun nut”, and for that I apologize. But it is quite frustrating to engage with folks who cannot see that the US approach to guns is tremendously flawed (as in grossly under-regulated), and who are apparently more concerned with their love affair with guns than reducing rates of gun violence in this country.

        1. I’m still getting notices, and I don’t want to be rude, so I’ll attempt some closing remarks.

          Yes, ‘buddy’, I was condescending. My apologies.

          I do that when I get the impression someone is discussing in bad faith. If that’s not the case, again, my apologies.

          Beyond this, it’s probably best if we don’t further engage.

  22. What would life insurance do in this area – or, do life insurance companies already have this covered?

  23. I may as well weigh in with my hot take as well.

    Firstly, these rampage acts are a separate issue and don’t relate to the everyday gun violence in terms of what is driving it. These rampage acts are better understood as acts of political violence that are driven by the decline in wellbeing, the disintegration of cooperation and rise in inequality. They are more akin to suicide bombings than ordinary gun violence. Peter Turchin calls them Canaries in the Coal Mine for the more serious problems that are looming for American society.

    Second. Stronger gun laws or magically eliminating guns would reduce the death tolls. All the alternatives to guns, especially for this indiscriminate political violence, are easier to detect early and/or result in fewer victims. It would not, however, address the causes of this violence.

    Greater restriction of guns would also reduce suicides and homicides for similar reasons. A Yale study demonstrated fairly convincingly that in general the danger zone for suicide is an impulsive desire that dissipates quickly. The availability of gun in the home has a big impact on suicide numbers because, again, they are a more deadly tool than the other alternatives. Same with a lot of homicides where means and opportunity combine with the innate killing efficiency of guns leading to deaths being more likely.

    The argument that criminals will get guns anyway doesn’t really hold water. Criminals can get guns easily in the US because they are cheap. Heavy gun restrictions would force the unit price of black-market guns up, pricing out many potential murderers and probably indiscriminate political terrorists like this most recent killer.

  24. I didn’t at first glance see the Onion headline (about the Las Vegas shooting) as parody, only a mordant commentary on an obvious truth. Which is sad I know. The Onion is correct. There is almost nothing that can be done about gun violence, singly or in multiples. It is not my place as a foreigner to prescribe any solutions. In the spirit of goodwill I ask you, though, to consider that gun control is all three of a political/legislative problem, uniquely for the U.S. a Constitutional/judicial problem, and a law-enforcement problem. All three, not just the political, represent the art of the possible.

    I think you will only antagonize one another if you say too often, “We should . . .” when you don’t know of any way to get from there to, “We can . . .” “We should remove guns from the hands of people we don’t want to have them”, is not helpful, because you can’t, as things stand now, do that. Better to ask, “Why can’t we remove guns from the hands of people we don’t want to have them?” It at least asks for suggestions instead of indicating that your mind is closed. It’s not rational to insist that the only solution is something against which you won’t listen to evidence that it’s impossible. (Like “just get rid of the damn guns!”). That’s what religion does. You haven’t got anywhere much with gun control since the JFK assassination. A breakthrough is unlikely.

    1. There is almost nothing that can be done about gun violence, singly or in multiples.

      Then what explains, in your opinion, the US having a gun violence rate 8x higher than Canada and 100x higher than the UK?

      You might have read the Onion headline, but you didn’t seem to get the point. Clearly and obviously it is possible for a country to drastically reduce gun violence rates below the rate seen in the US, since other countries have actually done that. You’re saying it is impossble to do what has already been done elsewhere. Clearly that’s wrong. It isn’t impossible, and we know this because it was done elsewhere.

      1. I don’t know. Really, I don’t know. I thought the Onion’s point was correct without irony. It is not clearly and obviously possible at all that just because other countries enjoy fewer gun homicides than the United does, that the U.S. could do likewise. Not with all those guns in circulation already. It probably is impossible for you to emulate other countries and in that sense the Onion’s headline and the article ring true as read straight, without parody.

        An obvious intermediate explanation is that you have more guns, or rather, more people own or can easily acquire guns. But then, why do so many more people own guns in the U.S.? If you made them all illegal—and you would then have to confiscate them all—very likely your gun homicides would drop to U.K. levels. (Duh.) Gun homicide would be the preserve of specialized criminals after specific high-value targets. But you oughtn’t to try to do that. Too many police would be killed in the disarmament effort. That’s why I think it is impossible.

      2. I think Leslie is correct in a sense. It clearly is possible to do something about gun violence because a lot of nations have. However, the USA has some unique issues.

        The first is the Second Amendment. As long as it hasn’t been repealed, the pro gun lobby always has a weapon to strike down effective gun measures.

        The second is that there is a pro gun lobby and it seems to be quite well financed. There are people in America who love guns. I’m sure they are not in the majority, but they still represent a significant base and source of funding for lobbying.

        The third is the utterly broken nature of American politics. In particular, areas where people are pro-gun have undue influence over the political process because of the way the voting system is structured and, by extension, the way appointments are made to the Supreme Court.

        These are not unsurmountable, but it’s going to be tricky.

        1. What nations have been successful in reducing their rates of gun homicide? All we know from the data presented in this post and discussion is that all other industrialized countries are better than the U.S. That doesn’t mean they got better than they were before. Before you can say the U.S. could get better than they are, you need to show that anyone else got better than he was. Jerry did mention Connecticut. What did they do, how did they do it?

          But has the U.K. or Canada or any other rich country ever had a serious problem with gun homicides in ordinary crime which we wrestled to the ground with gun legislation? Handguns are slowly but surely becoming a greater mechanism of homicide in street crime in Canada’s diverse cities, starting from ~zero until the 1990s. Our gun laws haven’t changed: handguns are close to illegal for ordinary people as always. But our police departments did stop the practice of “carding” in high-crime neighbourhoods, stopping groups of young people and asking for ID and chatting them up, not frisking without probable cause. No one in Canada’s chattering classes has the foggiest idea what to do about it. (The guns are smuggled in from the United States along a supply chain we are politically not allowed to talk about, much less interdict.) So they want to ban rifles because rifle-owners, being law-abiding, are more likely to obey the law than drug thugs are.

          Your three proposals are each impossible in America as it is today. As a package for reform it is impossible cubed. So you and I really agree.

          1. “That doesn’t mean they got better than they were before.”

            Is that a statement of fact or an open question that you have? I just spent 30 seconds looking at Australia’s experience after they passed massive gun control legislation in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting. Note that 13 mass shootings took place in the 18 years preceding and including this Port Arthur massacre.

            However, since that Port Arthur massacre, Australia has had only one mass shooting.


            “In addition, total deaths from firearms were 521 in the country in 1996. In 2019, with the population up from about 18 million to 25 million, Australia had 219 deaths, official data showed.”

            So only one mass shooting since 1996 and overall firearm deaths did decrease (at least through 2019). Granted, it could be that this is totally coincidental. It could also be that since Australia threw everything at the wall to prevent another mass shooting, that some of their gun control policies were more effective than others.

            Bottom line is that at least one country did see actual decreases in gun violence post-gun control. And I believe that the NYT article Jerry referred to has cited others.

            One additional point: you may quite correctly wonder whether the decrease in mass shootings in Australia is simply a statistical anomaly unrelated to the gun legislation, as mass shootings are such rare events.

            At least one paper (2018) I found has looked into this question, and concluded that even though mass shootings are indeed rare, at least some mass shootings should have occurred in the 22 years from the 1996 shooting to 2018. In their words:

            “Before 1996, approximately 3 mass shootings took place every 4 years. Had they continued at this rate, approximately 16 incidents (SD, 4) would have been expected since then by February 2018.”

            The paper acknowledges that it cannot draw a causal connection between the gun legislation and the massive decrease in mass shootings. However, it does conclude that “a standard rare events model provides strong evidence against the hypothesis that this prolonged absence simply reflects a continuation of a preexisting pattern of rare events.”


          2. It was an open question which you have gone a good way to answering. I knew about the mass shootings in Oz but because they are rare, as you say, I didn’t know to what extent they would have affected the larger burden of gun crime. The effect is larger than zero and that is good.

          3. One of the things that I don’t see people talking about is the economics of gun restrictions. Black market guns are still available in Australia but it is dangerous, complicated and very expensive. A single semiautomatic would cost something like a third of the average yearly income. This prices your average lunatic, enraged husband and many criminals out of the gun market.

  25. Kristof: “And it’s not just gang-members: In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.”

    Exactly what does Kristof mean by “And it’s not just gang-members”? Members who are shot dead or members who shoot dead others? Mr. Kristof, who is shooting those pre-schoolers dead? Tell me how many are shot dead by gangs shooting at each other. Are more pre-schoolers shot dead than these gang-members?

  26. “[A]nd one of the least messy ways of doing yourself in” – not for those who find the body.

    It is, of course, one of the most foolproof – whereas many of those who survive failed attempts using other methods at least stand a chance of getting the help they need to fix their problems and to live a fulfilling life.

  27. How do I get off this bus? I’ve unsubscribed and I keep getting notifications of replies to my comments.

    How about this? Yes, yes, guns evil. Get rid of them.

    1. Well, you did insist on telling us how it is… I jest but I found your views interesting, mainly as to why owning a gun at all cost is a high priority and why it is that giving them up is not an option given the state of gun distribution in the US.
      It’s something that has mystified my indifference to guns.

      1. I’m still getting notices, and I don’t want to be rude, so I’ll attempt some closing remarks.

        It’s not that I insisted on anything. Gun owners are often accused at not wanting to compromise and of being obstinate. Well, I’m open for all sorts of discussions with almost anything on the table, and what happens is no compromise, no discussion.

        Even people who are “polite” use language that basically say “why are you such a deranged guy? Why on earth would you want to have a gun in the first place?”

        I thought there was some interesting discussion and — after a long hesitation — fell into a trap set by my personality; meaning, I love to discuss and solve problems.

        Your question borders on such question (i.e. “I dont understand why you’re a gun nut” but worded more gently). But, here’s the thing . . . it mystifies me why alcohol is legal. There isn’t any justification I’ve heard that’s even remotely more sound than justification for guns being legal.

        As an exercise, do the comparison.

        But, to answer your question semi-directly . . . why do I need to justify owning a gun beyond my decision that it’s rational and prudent?

        At this point in my life (69) I’ve owned guns for more than 40 years. I’ve carried a gun (with the exception for when I lived in Hawaii) for nearly 30 of those years. At this point, because of the various places I’ve lived, I’ve undergone a total of five background checks and four mandatory classroom and range training (not to mention my own commitment to practicing). My only brush with the law is a speeding ticked on an empty road when I wasn’t paying attention to the speed limit. My guns, when not personally on me or near me, are in a safe.

        But, I’m being told that because a small number of people are deranged, I shouldn’t own guns. My discussion centers on “why not?” and after nearly 30 years of being involved in discussions, I’ve yet to hear a logical reason. Basically, because some people (people who typically don’t own a gun) don’t like guns.

        If we lived in a perfect world, with no violence and nothing but responsible citizens . . . I would still want to own a gun. And that should be enough for anyone.

        Unless they would like for me to tell them what I think they shouldn’t have . . . alcohol, loud motorcycles, fast cars, kids (more kids are murdered by their parents each year than are killed in school shootings), and broccoli. I’m willing to compromise on broccoli as long as I don’t have to eat any.

        1. Yes I have a problem with broccoli but I like it! what the hell! I also agree alcohol is a legal toxin and if not treated with caution as we know, is a major health issue.
          BTW I am not pegging you down as a gun nut but i am interested in the runaway effect that so many guns in a society has on it’s population. I’ll bastardize Occam’s razor here, no ubiquity of guns, less deaths (for whatever reason) We can see how this works outside the US. If it’s suicide they may take to jumping of bridges, poisons, so that’s not to say suicides will cease. In the case of gangs they might use knives.
          It is complex and no ‘right’ answer is right if I can say that. What bothers me is there has to be a element of fear permeating a society based on gun ownership and it beats me how this is a way to live. It also makes me grateful I don’t live in such a society and that’s down to luck of being born somewhere else and again don’t get this wrong, no society is perfect. We do (NZ) have gun problems, gangs, accidental or otherwise. We are currently have a spat in Auckland but they are shooting at houses just dumb gang stuff. We also have had shooting incidents by the deranged and the last sucked something out of our collective beings like nothing else has, it was a planned execution of innocents… and he came from 4000km away to carry it out.
          All this seems to me something primordial based, aggression, fear, status, envy, self esteem, our sense of fairness, civilization in a broad sweep still has a long way to go.
          Thanks for the reply… have you tried broccoli with mint sauce?

          1. Uh-oh . . . Dare I say I don’t like mint sauce. Well, more that I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t sound like something is like (not much for sauces), but thanks for the suggestion.

  28. Excellent article and comments. Some things that I didn’t see mentioned :
    1. I am not sure the suicides are relevant for the discussion, seeing that the suicide rate, in contrast to the homicide rate, isn’t exceptionally high in the US for a civilized country. So the percentage who wouldn’t have killed themselves if not for the easy availability of a gun might be relatively small (?). (FYI, I am pro the strictest version of gun control possible, but also pro allowing medically assisted suicide for mature people who wish to end their cruel suffering.)
    2. Banning everyone under 30, or everyone ever convicted of a violent crime or property crime, from owning or at least carrying a gun is a good idea. But it will not impact homicides much if it isn’t enforced. Unfortunately, as much as Republicans torpedo laws for gun control, some Democrats torpedo enforcement. Enforcement includes things like stop and frisk, car stops and searches in areas with high gun crime rates, and specifically of young males. Precisely that has been discouraged of late, and homicide rates in those areas have risen.
    3. Provide better mental health care and more regular medication for people with schizophrenia. Do not treat emotionally unstable young males who like shooter games with SSRI, or if you do, see to it that they don’t get their hands on guns (

    1. While not to the same proportion as homicides, suicides in the US are exceptionally high compared with other wealthy countries.

      Suicides account for around 55% of gun deaths in the US. There is good empirical evidence that the presence of guns increases both the risk of suicide attempts and the deadliness of such attempts.

  29. How about Mr. Beast give a thousand bucks per gun until they’re all his? Then he throws ’em in molten steel, or something.

    That guy does stunts like that – he’s a YouTuber. They can do things – like $hut down $cam call center$ in India when police are sorta sitting on their hands the whole time.

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